Do Asians ever get tired of rice

Blog entry 3
90 days China: week 3

Home sweet home

I live in an apartment complex right next to the school. With only a three-minute walk to the classroom, it will probably be the shortest commute I will ever have. The apartments, which are divided into three blocks, are mainly used for teachers who teach at the foreign language school. I live in the third block on the fourth floor, right next to a kindergarten.

  • © Theresa Metzler
    Home sweet home
  • © Theresa Metzler
    View from the window on the kindergarten
Anita lives below me, a lively, amiable Spanish teacher who speaks fluent Chinese and English and is actually only called Anna by everyone. Anna is thirty-five years old, incredibly good-looking and not on the lips. She was the only foreign language teacher who managed to conjure up a cozy little home out of our very simple and sparsely furnished apartments. During a movie night together on her couch, she tells me about the shabby condition that her apartment was in when she arrived last autumn and how she managed it with a lot of persistence and determination to find a new bed, a pleasantly soft mattress and one get real cuisine. You have to know that most of the apartments in China do not have a fitted kitchen. Cooking is done on simple hot plates on the glass-enclosed balcony. You sleep on relatively hard mattresses - I have not yet found out why this is so.
I don't mind the sparse interior of my apartment, by the way - I learn to cope with less and that feels really good.

 
English Corner
 
It's Tuesday evening, 6.30 p.m., and I'm still having dinner in the school cafeteria. Anna sends me a voice message on WeChat and asks me if I want to go out with her today. Knowing that I have not yet prepared all the lessons for the following day, I throw my perfectionism into the corner, grab my leather jacket and handbag, and less than thirty minutes later knock on Anna's door to pick her up. While we are sticking together like sardines in the metro, she asks me if I know the “Sculpting in Time” café. Anna is surprised when I answer her question in the affirmative. We are on our way to the “English Corner”, an event that takes place every Tuesday in the café. There are free coffee specialties for everyone and the opportunity to chat with English-speaking people from all over the world. When we arrive, the café is already full and we start talking to different people whose stories couldn't be more exciting.
 
Todd's story begins in Houston, Texas, where he has lived and worked for the past few years. He has only recently returned to his hometown of Xi’an and is now looking for a new job. He doesn't want to stay here for too long, even if his parents could use him here to support the family. In China, children feel more obliged to support their parents than we do in Germany. But the 29-year-old prefers to go to Canada, that's his real dream. There he would like to buy a boat, go fishing and escape the hustle and bustle of the Chinese cities.
Joy sits across from me. She is American and works as an English teacher at the university. She lives with an old British lady who is sensitive to "radiation" of any kind, which is why they cannot have WiFi in their apartment. “I'm here in the café every day,” she tells me. “I have to prepare my lessons somewhere.” Her Bible lies on the table, which she always carries with her. In the middle of our conversation, she tells me with great horror that she is asked about "dates" here so often because of her blond, curly hair. Apparently she hopes that I can stand by her as a “fellow sufferer”. I tell her that in an English class one of my students suddenly got up and asked if I had a boyfriend. We can't stop laughing so quickly and it will be a wonderfully colorful evening.
Much too late, Anna and I are on our way home.
 
Our apartment complex is guarded by a Chinese man who, Anna tells me, takes his job very seriously. Every evening at 11 p.m. he locks the gate and does not open it until 5 a.m. I understand that we have a night curfew that we are just able to pass. "Um, how do we get in today?" I ask, while a slight panic builds up in me. “Oh, we'll just wake him up! At thirty-five years of age, I no longer have to be told when to go to bed, ”she replied angrily in her strong Spanish accent in English. I smile to myself and still feel a bit guilty when we shake the gate and shortly afterwards sneak past the tired, cursing man.
In the hallway Anna suddenly starts pounding on the floor loudly. I flinch and wonder briefly, then I understand. The light in the hallway goes on - and a light goes on for me. In the past few weeks I have looked in vain for light switches in the hallway. Now I know that sound sensors provide light in the dark and that I can still learn a lot from Anna.
 
 
echo
 
In my third week, for the first time, I have the feeling that Xi’an is my temporary home. My friend Echo, whom I've grown really fond of since we first met in the bookstore, contributes a lot to this.
Eating pasta in the “Liu Xiang Mian” restaurant | © Theresa Metzler Her plans to lose a few kilos for the upcoming summer she likes to throw overboard for me. In the Muslim Quarter, where you can marvel at one of the oldest and largest mosques in China, you can buy goodies by the roadside everywhere. We start in the oldest noodle restaurant in town - the "Liu Xiang Mian". The shop is bursting at the seams at lunchtime and it's like a Turkish bazaar. While the Chinese stand in line, I secure two seats for Echo and myself. Next to me, two young Asians are slurping their noodles out of the bowl with chopsticks - their faces hanging as close as possible over the bowls. When an elderly Chinese woman calls our number (more yelling than yelling), I imitate the young Chinese. Eating noodles in China - that's how it works!
 
I am glad that Echo and I shared a portion, because as we stroll through the side streets of the Muslim quarter, I smell new smells around every corner. It's a culinary paradise! On the one corner we buy “Lao zao”, young rice wine. At another corner we try “Lu dou bing”, fried particles filled with sweet bean paste. You can buy freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, dried dates, sweet rice, exotic fruits, nuts, spices and fried meat and fish on a stick everywhere. Before we finish with an ice cream in the best ice cream shop in town, I have to grind chillies according to old tradition - to the delight of the rest of the tourists. Chinese fondue - hot pot
 
On Saturday is the day. My first hot pot meal in China is coming up. The Chinese hot pot is reminiscent of what we know as fondue and is considered a culinary highlight in all travel reports. Echo and John, a work colleague and friend of Echo, are with me. The two turn out to be the perfect culinary guides and although John speaks little English, the three of us get along well.
The restaurant we want to eat in is on the top floor of a shopping mall and is already very busy when we get there. “This place is very popular with young people,” Echo explains to me. “We may have to wait a little.” We fritter away the forty minutes of waiting, strolling through the mall with a hot “milk tea” in hand. I discover another restaurant where you choose your own fish in a large glass basin before it is freshly cooked and fried in front of the guests, and I definitely plan to come back here.
  • © Theresa Metzler
    Come on! Bottom up!
  • © Theresa Metzler
    Hot Pot
  • © Theresa Metzler
    Liao za lie!
When it's finally our turn and our waiting number is called, my stomach growls unmistakably loud. First we order different meat selections, black tofu, mushrooms, salads and other vegetables. Then we choose two different broths - a fiery broth with fresh chillies and a less spicy vegetable broth. While we individually put together different sauces with spices, nuts and herbs for a dip, our Dutch oven is already placed on the table. There is steam on all tables in the whole restaurant, it is an impressive picture. As soon as all the ingredients are ready, the big feast begins. We cook the meat and vegetables in our hot pot. In between we toast with Chinese “beer”, which tastes a bit like Beck's Green Lemon and has little in common with the beer that I know and appreciate. Come on!
It is a bit challenging to fish out the desired piece of meat or tofu in the sizzling broth with the chopsticks. At the same time, I have a lot of fun and “stop” is out of the question for a long time.
“Do you want to learn something new in Chinese?” Echo asks me with a grin when we really can't go on eating. She rubs her stomach and says "Liao za lie". "That means something like Yum, Yum Yum."

Author

Theresa Metzler studied German and English for secondary school teaching at the University of Dresden. From March to June 2018, she completed a SCHULWÄRTS! Internship in Xi'an.